Since the 1970s Australian films have increasingly come to world attention. Critically acclaimed films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock ( Peter Weir, 1975) and My Brilliant Career ( Gillian Armstrong, 1979) have been followed by the major international successes of Mad Max ( George Miller, 1979), Crocodile Dundee ( Peter Faiman, 1986), and Strictly Ballroom ( Baz Luhrmann, 1992). Then, in 1993, New Zealand-born Jane Campion became the first woman to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, with the Franco-Australian production The Piano ( 1993), sharing the prize with Chen Kaige's Farewell my Concubine ( 1993). It is an impressive record for a country with a population of only 18 million, especially one whose feature film industry had been moribund throughout the 1960s.
During the 1960s only fifteen features were made in Australia. Of these, eight were wholly or substantially financed and controlled by non-Australian interests. While there had been continuous documentary filmmaking throughout the post-1945 drought of features, cinema screens had long been dominated by Hollywood, and sporadically by British product. The 1960s' most significant films were the popular Italian immigrant-Australian girl love story of the UK co-production They're a Weird Mob ( Michael Powell, 1966), and the self-consciously all-Australian 2000 Weeks ( Tim Burstall, 1969), heralding the feature renaissance.
The revival of Australian film in the 1970s was preceded by a quarter-century of such minimal production. There was another, more broadly historical legacy against which the resurrected feature production had to struggle. Australia's post-colonial history being dominional rather than post-revolutionary (like Canada's but unlike India's), the Australian cultural assertion embodied in the feature renaissance had to counter a long history of willing subservience to other countries' economic, political-strategic, and cultural interests.
In 1970, after years of lobbying by film cultural campaigners, notably commentators Tom Weir and Sylvia Lawson and film producer Antony Buckley, the Australian government made a move to establish infrastructural support for the feature film industry. The Prime Minister responsible, John Gorton, believed that the new Australian films could show the rest of the world that their country contained 'other things than avant-garde kangaroos or Ned Kellys'. However, this infrastructural support was provided in a form which highlighted the unequal balance of powers between Australian cultural nationalist drives and US/ Hollywood interests. On the one hand, cultural nationalist assertion underpinned the 1970 establishment of agencies to fund production and training: the Australian Film Development Corporation (AFDC), the Experimental Film and Television Fund (EFTF), and the Australian Film and Television School (AFTS) handling film-production training. On the other hand, a certain cultural diffidence and failure of political will may be seen to underlie the key omission from that agenda, namely government intervention in the distribution sector dominated by Hollywood interests. Throughout the feature revival period, from 1970 to the present, Hollywood's boxoffice share has averaged about 80 per cent, higher than in almost all its other foreign markets, while Australian product has rarely exceeded 5 per cent, with some 70 per cent of films making a loss.
The principal funding agency of 1970-5 was the AFDC, which proclaimed a commercial and investor-oriented policy. In default of any feature film infrastructure, any regular production practices or generic traditions, or any pool of personnel or marketing expertise, its funding decisions were understandably hit-and-miss. The EFTF supported mostly short, experimental work such as cartoonist Bruce Petty's eighteen-minute tour de force, Australian History ( 1971), and Peter Weir's black comedy short Homesdale ( 1972). During this period the industry was enthusiastically amateurish, working with budgets below A$0.5m., with crew members often taking on multiple roles, and with relevant experience -- if any -- drawn only from television, documentary, or commercials.
Distributors were hostile to Australian product. Prior to Alvin Purple ( Tim Burstall, 1973), feature producers routinely took their films direct to individual down-market city theatres, as the distributors, all dominated by American interests, preferred the proven track records and ready-made publicity packages of Hollywood imports. However, in 1973 the Tariff Board Report recommended 'legislative provision to adjust and regulate the ownership and control of cinemas', and although the recommendation was never implemented distributors and exhibitors felt threatened. Hence the 1973 Australia-wide release of Alvin Purple, and increasing subsequent investment in and support for Australian production by distributors. The lower-budget experimental sector, funded by the EFIT, fell way below the threshold of visibility in these calculations. The anomaly of government subsidy for producing films that went virtually unseen was often